D: Fun with Taeniacara candidi
I can still remember it clearly--of course even now it wasn't that long ago-- I was scanning one of the fish auction boards and was stunned to see a pair of Taeniacara candidi for sale. After some momentary setbacks and a rollercoaster of hope and dispair, I soon had two beautiful trios swimming around in my aquariums. I have only just returned to the hobby and I was surprised to so quickly find this fish for sale. T. candidi had been one of my "Holy Grail" fish for a long time, probably my top wish list dwarf, but I was never able to acquire a pair before. I had managed to pick out an odd one here and there in imports, but never a pair together. At long last a had gotten my hands on these little jewels ( I won't say "my precious's).
These candidi were offspring from wild adults. They were only six months old, but they were already beautiful and ready to breed. Since I was still in the process of moving my tanks from my old place, I only had a 10 gallon open to put them in. I set it up as perfectly as I could. I placed lots of driftwood and live plants (Java Moss, Java Fern, Anubias, Crypts, floating salvinia-the few I can keep alive) in the tank, with small clay flowerpots and coconut shell as hiding/spawning places. I used very fine gravel as the substrate in this tank, with a couple small pebbles. Using RO water I brought the TDS down to about 45ppm with a pH of abought 6.5. Both tanks were filtered by small internal filters and had minimal lighting. I figured that this would work fine for the time being and would allow for convenient quarantine till things were ready. They took to the setup quickly and began flashing at each other. The males are absolutely stunning in display, with their outstretched finnage and bold blue, red, yellow, orange, and even hints of green iridescence. Even the females showed nice color. They were much nicer than the other candidi that I had come across before. The females I had picked out of my batches of wild Brazilian Apistos were pretty colorless, but this group had great coloration, just like the ones pictured in the Linke/Staeck book.
Fortunately they got along okay in their slightly close quarters and they all ate their feedings of blackworms, bloodworms, brine shrimp, or bbs with enthusiasm. The females quickly got plump, and by the next week the males were displaying and trying to coax them into caves to spawn. I was working quickly to get a more permanent aquarium set up for them, but I didn't think they would spawn before I was ready. I was wrong, to my delight. Only one week after I got them, the next Friday, one of the females spawned with the largest male. They chose to spawn inside of a piece of driftwood. Apparently there was a small hollow I wasn't aware of. No matter. Surprisingly everyone continued to get along fine. There was some territorial displaying in the immediate vicinity of the spawning site, but no real physical aggression. I did have a better reason to get the other tank up and running, and after another day I had that ready. I moved the other male along with two females into a 20 long that I had set up identically to the 10 gallon. The spawning pair seemed comfortable enough in the 10 to leave them there. I left a few endler's livebearers in with them as target fish just in case.
Everything continued to go smoothly for a few days. I thought that things might actually work out on the first try. The female was very protective of her cave while the male tried to stay out of the way. If she did see him, the female would do the characteristic candidi "waving". She would start off vertical, with her head facing down, and then wave her tail up and down, pivoting at the head. The male did his best to avoid any harassment, and aside from some minor chasing and nips things went along smoothly. On the fourth day though, I came down to check on them and found the female out swimming about. She had lost her brood care coloration and no longer seemed oriented towards the cave. I wasn 't too discouraged since it was their first attempt and just to have had them spawn was encouraging. With the two tanks I set to work to see what, if anything, needed tweaking to get a good spawn.
From the information I gathered from Romer's Atlas, I didn't try to lower the pH any further. While some have reported that a very low pH is necessary for spawning, I decided to concentrate on the TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) first and see if that didn't get me anywhere. I should also mention that both tanks were kept at a temperature of 79F. I already had the TDS fairly low, but I figured it couldn't hurt to try altering things a little further. I left the conditions alone in the 20 just in case the conditions were fine and they just needed more time. By doing water changes with pure RO water, I slowly lowered the TDS in the 10 down to 30ppm, and later 20ppm. Females in both tanks continud to spawn, but just as before, they both ate their spawns after four days. At this point I thought that perhaps I was going in the wrong direction. These candidi were captive bred and raised, and perhaps they were used to a slightly higher concentration of minerals. Going on this guess, I brought the TDS in the 20 up to 75ppm, which for me is 60/40 tap and RO. On schedule, the females in both tanks spawned again. At about this time I had some other things in my schedule take priority, and I could only check on my fish periodically. I'm sure it didn't hurt that I wasn't constantly hovering about the aquariums. After 5 days I noticed the female in the 20 was still guarding her cave. While the female in the 10 had left her cave by the third day, the female in the 20 had taken on a nice golden hue and was constantly in and out of the cave. The male in the 20 was also quite involved, and together the pair was doing a good job of herding everyone else to one side of the tank. This was encouraging, but I didn't have the time to watch things more closely.
A few days later,, eight days from the date of spawning, I came down to do a quick check on my fish before work, and I was ecstatic to find the female hovering over a log with about 50 little fry on it,. That was a good day for me. I had hardly expected anything to come of this spawn, and it was more than a pleasant surprise. Being their first time, I wasn't sure they'd follow through. But my worries were unfounded, and the female proved to be a great mother. I fed them their first feeding of freshly hatched brine shrimp and their bellies turned a nice orange/pink color. I did my best not to pester the new family other than that.
During this time both the mother and father both did an excellent job of observing their duties. The male watched the perimiter constantly, and if he was slacking off, the female was quick to come over and remind him of his paternal role. I could watch her coming over and henpecking him to get back to work and he quickly turning on the other fish in the tank, puffing up and trying to regain some semblance of dignity. I was a little worried about him, not knowing if he was completely trustworthy with the fry, but he turned out to be a better father than many of the Apistos I've kept. The fry aren't always real bright, and on more than one occasion they went swimming out right into the middle of the aquarium. The first time I saw the male swim up and grab the fry in his mouth my heart skipped a beat. He quickly swam back over to the school though, and spat the little fry out. Boy was I relieved. Other than that, he usually ignored the fry and just let them swim around him as they pleased, so long as things were safe.
After a week of careful monitoring, I began to add just a little extra tap water to each change (10% change 2/week). This brought the dKH up to about 2, and the TDS to 120ppm. I wanted to be sure that I didn't have any problems with pH crashes, and the slightly harder water works just fine with the fry. I kept the temperature around 78/79F. I continued to feed the fry bbs, but I also mixed in cyclop-eeze or golden pearls alternately. These work as a supplement with fry and they will pick at them at their leasure as they graze the tank. This helps to assure they get a rounded diet. After about three weeks I moved the fry to a 20 gallon of their own and let the pair have their tank back. The fry grew well and by a little over 1 month of age they were approximately 1/4" long. I moved them to a 30 breeder at about 2 months to make sure they had plenty of space for growing. They began to accept chopped feedings of blackworms, brine shrimp, and bloodworms along with their usual bbs. From there it was mostly a matter of keeping up on the water changes and feeding them a good diet. By this time the tap and tank water matched and I was doing 25% changes twice a week. Hopefully they'll be breeding soon enough and I'll have my own next generation of candidi.
Since the first spawn I have been able to actually witness multiple spawns. With the success of the first spawn, I brought all of the tanks to matching conditions and within a few weeks most of the females had spawned successfully. They have invariably been in the evening or even late night, and the group seems to be on the same weekly schedule, with most spawns coming in 7 day intervals of each other. It's not hard to spot a spawning pair, as the male becomes an unusually obvious little fellow in the tank. He sports his nicest colors and swims around flashing in front of the female. Another sign of course is that the female doesn't run away in response to the male's attentions. They will often beat their tales at each other or assume an "S" curve position while moving towards each other. This is interspersed with occasional spats where the male chases the female, apparently if she is still not cooperative enough. Finally the male will begin floating away from the female, still displaying, and head toward a spawning site. The female will enter the cave after the male, and they then take turns going in and out of the cave. The male periodically takes a swim around the territory to make sure everthing is still under control. He then returns and approaches the spawning site. I have consistently observed that at this time the male will swim up to the cave and make quick cough-like movements with his mouth, which I can only imagine are some sort of communication with the female. This may possibly be some sort of vocal communication, as I have read of other cichlids making audible noises between each other. The male may sit outside of the cave and continue this for a little while, or he may reenter the cave. This can go on for hours, presumably until the female is done laying her eggs. Recently I've also acquired some subadults from a different supplier. These would appear to be more of the red variety, whereas the first ones I got were more blue. Both are very nice and it has been interesting to see them develop. They behave similarly to the ones I already have, and have recently spawned successfully in the same conditions.
From the start this has been a great experience. After all the waiting I finally got my elusive little fish, and they haven't disappointed me one bit. Both their appearance and behavior have been wonderful, and since the first spawning the other male has spawned with both of his females. Hopefully I can get a nice little colony going and spread the joy around. I know this is one dwarf that most enthusiasts would give their right arm for (but think of the water changes). I also have plans once I have a steady population going to try some selective breeding. I have some truly spectacular adults, and hopefully the young will be just as beautiful. I'm still anxious to see what kind of sex ratio I end up with as well. I've raised some of the other spawns at different temperatures to observe the effect, and hopefully I can get some good pairs. I worked on the assumption that, like Apistogrammas, temperature played an important role in sex determination, but I have not found any info about this on the web or in print. This should give me plenty to do with them for a while, and of course I'll never get tired of just sitting back and watching them parade around the tank like little peacocks, or leading around a new batch of fry.
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